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Honestly Abeless: Remembering the 16th President of the United States

Emancipation Proclamation, 1865
Augustus Hageboech (German-born American); Davenport, Iowa
Lithograph on paper; 20 x 17 in.
Gift of Mrs. Pearl Wall Lang
Mary Lincoln Doll, late 19th to early 20th Century
Unknown Maker
Cotton and papier-mâché
Gift of Mrs. Lilian Norman Gally
Abraham Lincoln Doll, mid 20th Century
Muriel Bruyere; Los Angeles, California
Cloth, wood, clay and pigments; 24 in.
Gift of the Artist

156 Years Since Split Illinois Rails

On April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth mortally wounded Abraham Lincoln, meaning that this year marks the 156th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. Though Lincoln has come to be understood as being more of a product of his time than posthumous gilding of his personage would have us believe, he was, indisputably, a man who believed in these great United States, in the dangers of partisanship and who put in the Herculean effort of trying to pull a fracturing country back together. More than anything we can see how his death turned the reunion of the North and South into a moment of mourning for the great man who made it happen. The Bowers' objects in this post speak to the various ways that the country memorialized their fallen leader.

The Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, 1924
Keystone View Company (1862-1972); Hodgenville, Kentucky
Photographic print on cardboard card; 3 3/8 x 7 x 1/2 in.
Gift of Mrs. Deirede Fairback

Cabin in Double Vision

The Bowers Museum has no shortage of the slightly curved stereographic cards which were once used with the assistance of a viewer to give someone a virtual-reality-like impression of a subject. One of these photographs happens to depict the “symbolic” birthplace of former President Abraham Lincoln in Hodgenville, Kentucky. It is a log-cabin style home with chain stanchions around it, we can see in the photograph that the home is now enclosed in a neoclassical style memorial. Interestingly though, the cabin in the memorial was almost certainly never inhabited by Lincoln. At the very best it is sort of a ship of Theseus situation where it was broken down and moved so many times that the cabin became only a facsimile of the original, and more likely than not the original had already been torn down long before anyone set about capturing its likeness or preserving it. It was the death of Lincoln which eventually led to the rebuilding of his childhood cabin on the same site as the one his father had built and it was only moved into the memorial building in the early 20th Century.

"Assassination of President Lincoln", 1865
New York Herald; New York City, New York
Ink on paper; 22 1/4 x 15 1/4 in.
Gift of Charles A. Robinson

Black, White and Read All Over

Most Americans learned of their captain’s passing by reading about it in their local paper, this edition of the New York Herald being one such vehicle for having communicated his passing. Prefaced by an uppercase “IMPORTANT,” the paper describes the crime in detail. The donor of this paper had bought out a store which had been open during the Civil War. In going through his newly acquired possessions he came across this paper and it caught his eye. In the years following Lincoln’s assassination, periodicals dated April 15, 1865 and bearing the ill tidings of the assassination became the most faked of all time. It is difficult to identify for certain whether this copy is authentic or not, but it does not bear many of the telltale markers of the fakes, such as including an image of Lincoln.

Autographed Photograph of Edwin Booth,1889
Photographer unknown
Albumen print; 25 1/4 × 21 × 1 1/2 in.
Gift of Mrs. A.L. Ford

Booth for Two

The name Booth has rightfully lain in infamy ever since Lincoln’s passing, but many are surprised to learn that the assassin was at one point in his life one of the most famous thespians in the United States. What fewer still recollect is that John Wilkes Booth’s brother was also a famous stage actor by the name of Edwin Booth. As a Unionist, Edwin Booth lost his brother—who he thought of as crazy but cared for all the same—and beloved President on the same awful night. This photograph was in the private collection of Orange County’s Madame Modjeska who had acted on stages with a man separated by only a fraction of a degree from Lincoln’s killer.

Lincoln Memorial, early 20th Century
Probably Leo Tiede (American, 1889 - 1968); Washington, D.C.
Photographic print
Leo Tiede Photography Collection

The Many Faces of Lincoln

More objects in the collections speak to Lincoln's legacy as well. On a trip to Washington, D.C. Santa Ana’s very own Leo Tiede took the above images of the Lincoln Memorial. One can just make out the inscription in the memorial reading:






The Bowers also has several dolls of both Mary and Abraham, some of which were made by world-class doll artists like Muriel Bruyère. Perhaps the most touching homage to Lincoln is a framed print the of Emancipation Proclamation with select words bolded to create a likeness of the man. The same year as the president was killed, this was created by a German-born lithographer living in Davenport, Iowa. If all of this demonstrates anything it is that he is a figure who was not scratched out of existence with his murder but gained life immortal as a symbol of this nation’s unity.

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.

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Monday, 15 April 2024

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